Free Souls, Chapter 42

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

 

Chapter 42

“Mom, you can’t!”

Sandy’s hand, the piece of bread still in it, hung as if frozen over the bank of the river. In the water the ducks, heedless in their anatine greed, kept up their quacking for more.

“I’m sorry, Sandy. But with all of you children moved away and your father gone, the house is simply too big for me.”

She threw the morsel to the ducks and turned around to face her mother, sitting in the shade on the park bench. “But I always thought you’d always be there for me!”

“I will, Sandy, I’ll just be there for you in Florida.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, but her voice held rebuke, not apology.  “I guess I’d always envisioned bringing my kids back to Wapatomekie for the holidays and everything being the way it used to be.” There was more to it than that, but she didn’t want to get into it now. “And with Daddy gone . . . ”

“Come here, sweetheart.” Her mother beckoned her over to the bench. “Sit down by me.”

Sandy obeyed, and Mrs. Beichten put her arm around her and gave her a hug. “I understand how you feel. But your brother Mark’s starting his medical practice down there and there’s things in Florida I want to do.”

“Florida’s for old people,” Sandy said, knowing it was rude.

“Not necessarily, young lady! I won’t be moving to a retirement community; at least, not yet. I’ve always wanted to learn ocean sailing. Your father and I intended to do that together once we retired. God didn’t plan it that way for us, but now that you’ve all left the nest, I’m going to Fort Myers and doing it by myself.”

“Mom!”

“Alexandra.” Her tone was ominous. “Are you implying that because I’m in my late fifties, I can’t? Or because I’m a lone woman, I shouldn’t?”

Her mother had hit the target whang in the center, but Sandy wasn’t about to admit it. “No, Mom, no, of course not. It’s just that, I don’t know, I never imagined . . . ”

“Sandy, you’re a grown woman now. You’re about to find out all sorts of things about your mother you never imagined. Just like I’m finding out all sorts of things about the woman you’ve become.” She squeezed her daughter tighter. “In some ways you’ll always be my little girl. Just like Mark and Larry are still my little boys. But you’re more than that now, just like I’ll be more than your mother. Are you willing to let me be that?”

Sandy nodded, feeling the tears moist under her eyelids. “Yes, Mom, I will. And it’s not like you’ll be alone. Mark and Melanie will be there, too. And my nieces. I’ll come visit, and you can take me out on the Gulf.” She wiped her eyes and smiled. “It’ll be fun. And you’ll come see me in Boston, too.”

“Just don’t ask me in the winter!” She must have seen the disappointment in her daughter’s face, for she relented. “Oh, all right. What’s Christmas without snow?”

“Oh, nothing at all! And New England should guarantee it!

“But Mom,” she continued, “what about this summer? You haven’t sold the house already, have you?”

“No, sweetheart, I haven’t. I’m not putting it on the market till September. We’ll have our time together at home this month, don’t worry. Besides, I’ll be too busy to sell the house before then. There’s something I have to do first.”

“What is it?” asked Sandy, mystified.

“Or at least I hope my summer is booked, once you read this.” Mrs. Beichten reached into a pocket of her capacious handbag, pulled out a sealed envelope, and handed it to her daughter. “Open it. It’s for you.”

Sandy turned it over. On the face it said, “To my daughter, Alexandra Marie Beichten.” Slitting the envelope with her thumbnail and withdrawing the enclosure, she found herself holding a sheet of her late father’s personal stationery, written over with his firm, sweeping hand.

“Wapatomekie, Sunday, August 29, 1971,” it was dated. “My dearest little Honey Sandwich . . . ”

“A letter from Daddy!” She read on.

As I sit in my den this Sunday evening, the house is very quiet. Today your mother and I returned home after taking our youngest child and only daughter up to the University at Mt. Athens to begin her study of Architecture. We’ll miss your humor and intelligence, your flights of fancy and your sweet singing voice, but that’s the parent’s dilemma, isn’t it? We must prepare our young to leave us, and the more successful we are at the job, the harder it is to let you go.

Nevertheless, we have let you go, with our blessing. Sandy, I hope that before we told you goodbye at the dorm you knew how proud we are of you and how much we love you. We can never love you better, for our love for you now “runneth over.” But we’re confident that our pride in you can only grow as you pursue the discipline you have chosen. On the wall across from my easy chair I can see the house plans you drew for me when you were just a little girl, and I’m sure the determination you showed then will carry you through to earn your degree.

When you are read this, that degree will be yours. You have successfully completed your Architectural studies and are preparing to embark upon your career in that noble profession. Your mother and I certainly plan to be there to witness your graduation and show you how happy you are making us as you go out into the world. But let this letter testify to how happy we are in you now.

In token of this, your mother and I have started a fund that will enable you to travel to Europe in the summer after your final year. We have heard you many times wish that you could go there to see the great monuments of historical and modern architecture, and it will be our pleasure to make this a reality. I plan to add to this fund over the next four years, such that you will be able to spend several weeks there– in short, to do your own 20th century version of the Grand Tour.

We fully realize that a lot can change in four years, and by then you may be engaged to be married. In that case, let the money be our gift of a honeymoon trip for you and the man you have chosen. Or you might wish to go accompanied by one of your classmates. If that is your choice, we send you and your friend with our blessing, for we trust you and know you will associate yourself only with those we would be proud to know.

But as I conclude, permit me to hope that when the time comes the friends you will choose as your companions on this trip will be your mother and me. We love you and hope to remain the best friends you could ever have.

Dear Sandy, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Your loving father,
Roderick Beichten

By the time she finished reading, the paper was shaking in her hands. She stood at the river’s edge and stared unseeing across the water, love, guilt, grief, and excitement churning within her, boiling over until she must surely weep again.

“Oh, Mom!” she cried, falling into her mother’s arms. “Daddy, he– ! Oh, I don’t deserve it! I don’t deserve it! Daddy! I miss him so much!”

“Shh, Sandy, shhh. It’s all right.” Mrs. Beichten held her close, patting her back. “It’s all right. Your father loved you very much, and he wanted you to have this.”

“Mom,” she said, standing back so she could search her mother’s face, “even when I was dating Marvin? Even then?”

“Sandy, your father trusted your good judgement. He knew you would see through that young man eventually.”

“I just wish I’d done it before Daddy died. I hate thinking he passed away while I was still . . . You mean he never changed his mind about . . . this trip? Never thought he should take it back?”

“Never. Sandy, your father loved you. As I do. He didn’t give up on you, any more than your heavenly Father will give up on you. And nothing would make your daddy happier than to know you’re going to Europe after your graduation, just like he planned.”

“Mom,” she said, “did you know what was in this letter?”

“Certainly I did. He showed it to me before he sealed it up. And there’s a copy of it with the trust fund documents. It was his idea originally, but I totally agreed. In fact, I’ve been adding to the fund since he died.”

“You have! Oh, Mom!” She hugged her again.

“Yes. At today’s prices, there should be enough for two sensible people to travel around Europe for two months having a very good time.”

“’Two sensible people’!” Sandy laughed at herself. “Well, that leaves me out!”

“Alexandra!” Then she laughed, too.

Sandy looked at her mother, and her heart felt as if it would burst. “Oh, Mom, I love you! I know where I could find one sensible person, at least. Mom, will you come with me? I know you’ve been dying to go to Europe. Will you come too?

“Or . . . ” she said, realizing, “is that what you meant when you said you hoped your summer was already booked?”

“It was.”

“Well, it is booked, and there’s no getting out of that reservation! . . .

“Wait a minute,” Sandy said, her smile fading. “I can’t go this summer. My job in Boston. My friend Aliya’s contact, I’ve already spoken with him on the phone and he’s expecting me up there for an interview before the end of June. I think if I get the job he’ll want me to start right away.”

“Oh, Sandy!” said her mother. “Surely you could work something out. If he’s an architect worth his salt I’m sure he wouldn’t want you passing up such an opportunity.”

“I don’t know,” she said, crestfallen. “The way the economy is, he might think I’m foolish to pass up such a good job opportunity.”

“I won’t force you to do anything,” Mrs. Beichten said. “You’re a grown woman now. But call him when we get back to your house and see what he says.”

As luck– or Providence– would have it, the Boston architect Sandy needed to talk to was out of the office that afternoon, and Sandy was forced to do battle with uncertainty until the next day. She was glad to have the physical labor of loading the U-Haul trailer to take her mind off the problem. Carrying out heavy boxes of books, she found herself dwelling more on the love and confidence her father had shown in his letter, than upon the ways she might have wounded him. Her father’s love had been stronger; her heavenly Father’s love was stronger still.

Sandy got through to her Boston contact the next day in Wapatomekie. Her mother had been right: He thought an architectural trip through Europe would be an ideal way for her to spend her summer, and a definite enhancement to her resume. And it would work out perfectly for his firm, since the position he’d considered her for wouldn’t actually be available until mid-September.

“Mom, he still wants to interview me before July.”

“That’s fine, Sandy. We’ll fly out of Boston instead of New York.”

And they did.

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